Would we use ‘may’ or ‘might’ in the sentence below? Is there a specific rule in choosing the correct variant every time?

“She contacted me to say that the cashier may/might have inadvertently handed the check back to the customer”.

And where would you place the word ‘inadvertently’ in the foregoing sentence – where it is originally placed or at the very end?

Eg “She contacted me to say that the cashier may/might have handed the check back to the customer inadvertently”.

Thank you.
1 2
All four variants are completely acceptable — may or might and inadvertently in either position.
victoIs there a specific rule in choosing the correct variant every time?
No. Absolutely no rule. To many people, including me, 'may' seems a little more formal than 'might'.

CJ
victo“She contacted me to say that the cashier may/might have inadvertently handed the check back to the customer”.
I think you should use might here, very simply because you're reporting what she told you, using the reported speech. And one of the rules of converting from the direct to the reported speech is that any verb in the Present Simple becomes a verb in the Past Simple.

In other words, if you were saying exactly what she told you, you'd say "She contacted me and said: 'The cashier may have inadvertently handed the check back to the costumer' ". But, in the reported speech, you have to say “She contacted me to say that the cashier might have inadvertently handed the check back to the customer". I think that is the difference.
victoAnd where would you place the word ‘inadvertently’ in the foregoing sentence – where it is originally placed or at the very end?
I would place it where you placed it originally, merely because I think it sounds better to me, but I think you can place it also in the end. I think it's grammatically correct.
Site Hint: Check out our list of pronunciation videos.
MrGuedes But, in the reported speech, you have to say “She contacted me to say that the cashier might have inadvertently handed the check back to the customer".
No you don't. Backshifting is not obligatory if the situation is still true at the time of reporting.
fivejedjonBackshifting is not obligatory if the situation is still true at the time of reporting.
Isn't it? Well, but we have to admit that it's a more correct English, right? Maybe popularly you won't speak like that, but it's the more correct way, right? Would you say, for instance, "He told me that it is sunny where he is now", or "He told me that it was sunny where he was at that moment", even if it was still sunny there, when you tell that? Obviously, the second one is more correct, and a more careful level of English, right?
MrGuedesIsn't it? Well, but we have to admit that it's a more correct English, righ
No.
MrGuedes Would you say, for instance, "He told me that it is sunny where he is now", or "He told me that it was sunny where he was at that moment", even if it was still sunny there, when you tell that? Obviously, the second one is more correct, and a more careful level of English, right?
No.
Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?
fivejedjonNo.
No? Really? Well, that goes against everything I've been taught... Hmm... I'm going to do some research about that...
Henry Sweet wrote as long ago as 1900, "[...] in such a sentence as the ancients did not know that Africa ..an island, we hesitate whether to use was or is." Jespersen (1933) wrote: "[...] when the idea of a universal truth is quite obvious, the tense may be unshifted: We learnt at school that 2 and 2 is 4."

It is true that not everybody will regard the beauty of a particular speaker as a 'universal truth' but Palmer (1974) makes no restriction: "The present tense form of the original statement can be retained even with a past tense of reporting: He said he likes chocolate. He said he's reading 'Vanity Fair'.

It is interesting that in the earlier version of his book (1965), Palmer said that non-backshifting was 'rare'. My own suspicion (and that's all it is) is that between 1965 and 1974 Palmer realised that it was not rare; it was in fact quite common - and correct. I taught obligatory backshifting when I started in TEFL in the late 1960s, because that was what most coursebooks and student grammars at the time prescribed. Within a short time, I had realised that backshifting was not essential for 'universal truths'. By the mid 1970s, I had read enough to confirm my own belief that backshifting was not essential for any situation that was still valid at the time of reporting.

Sweet, Henry (1900:70) The History of Language, London: Dent
Jespersen, Otto (1933.261) Essentials of English Grammar, London: Allen & Unwin
Palmer, F R (1974.45) The English Verb, London: Longman
Palmer, F R (1965.71) A Linguistic Study of the English Verb. London, Longman
OK, if you think so, who am I to deny it? I had this idea that non-backshifting (by the way, I had no idea that this process was called "backshifting") was typical of informal language. I think I would always use backshifting in the reported speech. For example, taking the clause I wrote between brackets, I would never say it "I had no idea that this process is called 'backshifting' ".

In that case, and coming back to the original question, both "may" and "might" are actually fine, I guess...

Thanks for everything, fivejedjon!
Teachers: We supply a list of EFL job vacancies
Show more